June 2, 2009 in Nation/World

Leftist takes El Salvador’s helm

FMLN candidate sworn in as president
Mary Beth Sheridan Washington Post
 
Associated Press photo

President of El Salvador Mauricio Funes waves after his swearing in ceremony in San Salvador on Monday.
(Full-size photo)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – Nearly two decades after the end of a U.S.-backed war against El Salvador’s rebels, a representative of the former guerrilla movement took power on Monday – with a top American official applauding.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton attended the inauguration dressed in bright red, the color of the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front. It was an image that would have been unthinkable in the 1980s, when the United States poured $6 billion into El Salvador to fight the rebel group backed by Cuba and the Soviet Union.

The FMLN laid down its arms in 1992 and joined the political system. But some U.S. lawmakers still worry that the party could propel El Salvador into the orbit of anti-American countries such as Venezuela. Forty-five House Republicans wrote Clinton in March warning about “potential threats to our security interests” if the FMLN’s Mauricio Funes won.

Clinton, however, told reporters here that she expects “a positive relationship” with Funes, who is considered by many Latin Americans to be a moderate. Her visit signaled the Obama administration’s effort to reach out to a more assertive Latin America altered by a “pink tide” of socialist victories in recent years.

El Salvador has been one of the staunchest U.S. allies in Latin America, maintaining troops in Iraq until this year. Funes immediately signaled a departure from his predecessors, announcing the resumption of diplomatic ties with Cuba. Still, the new government is expected to maintain a strong relationship with the United States. El Salvador sells half its exports to the U.S. market.


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